BEMIDJI -- Katie Alto and Jenna Jones were probably the only defenders that could have stopped their own offensive showcases on Tuesday night.
The Bemidji High School girls basketball tandem dominated on both ends of the floor in a season-opening 69-30 win over Thief River Falls at the BHS Gymnasium. They racked up deflections and steals, flipped them into fast-break layups and then got right back to work on the defensive end.
“We fully expect to be that kind of half-court defensive team this year,” Bemidji head coach Steve Schreiber said. “That whole unit… they’re going to play that kind of defense. We’re going to be very, very tough. And I think we’re going to be a scoring team, as well.”
The Lumberjacks (1-0) didn’t disappoint. It was a collective effort to limit TRF (1-0) on the scoreboard, but Alto and Jones shone brightest with 11 combined steals and a menacing effort that flustered the Prowlers all night.
“Me and Jenna, with soccer we’ve worked well together, and it translates into basketball,” Alto said. “It all comes together.”
“Katie and I have played together for many years, and we’re really good friends, so we just know each other very well,” Jones added. “If she’s hot, I’ll pass to her. … If I get a steal, Katie runs and goes all the time. She’s just always there to do anything we need her to do.”
Bemidji’s defensive prowess carried over to the scoreboard. Thief River Falls (0-1) didn’t score until 8 minutes, 10 seconds into the game, and its first field goal didn’t come until exactly 10 minutes had run off the clock.
“We wanted to be a lock-down defense. We want to be the team that people have to try very hard to score on,” Alto said. “For the first eight, 10 minutes, we did a really good job of that. No one got beat, everyone helped each other out and we played lock-down defense.”
BHS used its suffocating start to build a 12-0 advantage on the other end. Though the offense also fell victim to some understandable early-season rust, Alto shook it off for 15 first-half points.
Her last was a 3-pointer for a 29-13 edge. Jones later knocked down a three of her own before feeding Ashley Hofstad on a backdoor cut for a layup, which put the Jacks in a lopsided lead of 36-17 at the break.
The defense was even better after halftime, surrendering just 13 points -- a total that included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for Jerzie Finstad that finally lifted the Prowlers out of the 20s.
“(Our) emphasis is on, ‘We are just expecting you to be better than the girl that you’re guarding,’” Schreiber said. “We got up and pressed a little bit. If we need to press, I think we can get up a little bit more than we did. But we wanted to prove that we can play half-court defense. That really showed up tonight.”
Rylie Jones started a 10-0 spurt with an inside bucket early in the second half, and Alto finished it off with the next eight points -- a spinning layup in transition and back-to-back threes -- for a 58-22 lead.
Meanwhile, Katie Alto's on a personal 8-0 run. Smooth spinning layup in transition, then back-to-back threes. She's outscoring TRF 24-22 on the night. It's been a 22-5 second half.
Meanwhile, Katie Alto's on a personal 8-0 run. Smooth spinning layup in transition, then back-to-back threes. She's outscoring TRF 24-22 on the night. It's been a 22-5 second half.— Micah Friez (@micahfriez) November 27, 2019
Bemidji added a late 11-0 run into the closing seconds for good measure, ultimately walking out as 39-point victors.
Alto’s 24 points led all scorers, and Jenna Jones tallied 14 of her own. Hofstad posted eight points, five assists and a team-high seven steals, as well. Camryn Schwab paced TRF with eight points.
BHS returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, to face Hibbing on the road, and the Lumberjacks will hope to bring their defensive efforts along with them.
“We knew we were losing some of our main scorers from last year, so our focus was going to be on defense,” Jenna Jones said of Tuesday. “ … (This) felt like a strong win, and I think this is a good start to a great season.”
Bemidji 69, Thief River Falls 30
TRF 17 13 -- 30
BHS 36 33 -- 69
THIEF RIVER FALLS (0-1) -- Schwab 8, Dalager 7, Yuska 6, Finstad 3, Naslund 3, Picket 2, Hawkins 1.
BEMIDJI (1-0) -- Alto 24, J. Jones 14, Hofstad 8, Hildenbrand 6, R. Jones 5, Bolte 3, Neubeck 3, T. Wade 3, Huberty 2, Bieber 1.